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  • Hypotenuse Blue
  • Sonja Livingston (bio)

“There’s so much of it coming,” she says, the smile she makes taking up so much of her face that she must squint as I swipe my card through the machine. To call her a sales clerk would be to belittle her vocation. She’s a priestess and the store, a temple of linen and raw silk for women of a certain means.

“Here’s just a sample of our colors for spring.” She floats a thin hand through the air to indicate a wall lined in turquoise and cobalt, hand-dyed tunics and scarves. The word “lined” is not right. Nor is “store.” The hanging rods are sculpted into bronze branches and buds. “It’s not just clothes,” the woman says. “I’m just back from Atlanta and wall coverings and sofas—even paint colors—will get in on the act.” She walks around the counter with the beribboned bag into which my cardigan has been swaddled in tissue and set.

“Everything this season,” she says, “is going to be blue.”

Just hand me the damned bag, I want to say, but compared with the tangle of my brain—the mess of polygons and cylinders and right angles—my body is soft, so perhaps I’m more annoyed with myself than with the woman using a coin-lined mouth to invoke the color of sky—as if the color is only a dress to be worn a few times and carted off to Goodwill by women who will return for a new season’s color and cut. And here I am, nearly one of them—is it this, how close I have come, that makes me want to fall to the floor while shouting: What can you possibly know about blue? [End Page 5]

I’m given to irritation these days, the chomp of unnecessary talk getting under my skin like the crinkle of candy wrappers in a movie theater. It must be related to age—I’ve been in my 40s for a few years now, but when did I get old?

Perhaps life is what we allow ourselves to realize, and getting old is like that dream of flying—you’re doing just fine, soaring over riverbed and gorge, until common sense arrives to announce the impossibility of it all, and just like that, you begin your slow and steady descent.

Sometime this past year, perhaps in late September, I looked myself in the eye and said: You, my girl, are getting a bit long in the tooth and the very next day found myself wanting nothing more than escape from highway traffic and airline ticket counters in order to return to the soft shell of my home to contemplate the flavor of cinnamon, the mystery and persistence of certain colors, and of course you.

Back when I started writing, you were my teacher.

It was not a coincidence, I don’t think, that I’d begun to consider the shapes of birds as they lifted themselves up and over the marshes near Lake Ontario just as you showed how fluid an essay, how winged. Sometimes you gave us writing exercises. One time, you told us to choose a color and write a list of things that shade. I took a minute to start, peeking at those seated nearby scribbling out their lists of yellow and red and lavender. Did I begin with the sky? Maybe Virgin’s robe. Morning glories. The shutters of old buildings. The entire city of New Orleans. The sea near Puerto Rico and Santorini, electric where the water is shallow and slaps against the rock. The beach at Crete. The way we did not have bathing suits but took off as much as we could and fell into the sea, floating without trying because of how salted the water so that it seemed we floated for months and not minutes. The water cradled us as we took in the rubble of old altars rising along the rocky shore. Yes, I would have thought of Greek islands. Of Samos and Pythogoras perhaps, but most of all Crete. The island from which Icarus flew with a pair of...


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